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March 31, 2008

Cross The Wide Missouri

I was having a really bad day this day so I don't really remember much about the conducting. I do remember that I need to do more with phrasing and dynamics. Cutoffs are probably my biggest struggle, and also using my left hand to show different ways of conducting. I have realized in the last few weeks exactly how much I use my head to cue people in. Does anyone have any suggestions how to stop this? I feel like I either am a bobble head or I am too stiff. What do I do?

March 30, 2008

Concert Observation

On March 29 at 8:00pm, I attended the concert "My Soul's Repose" which was presented by "The Singers". The ensemble was conducted by our very own Matthew Culloton. It was very interesting to view a conductor I know well working with different singers. The groups seemed extremely connected to Matthew and there seemed to be wonderful communication from both parties.

From the beginning with William Byrd's "Sing Joyfully", Matthew was able to establish a exciting, buoyant sound. It gestures were extremely round and he traveling in a very smooth, circular motion. This was visible in the choir because the singers seemed to use their bodies to feel and experience the music. Through the entire concert, Matthew was very relaxed but in complete control. This allowed the singers to seem more relaxed and able to express more extreme dynamics. Furthermore, Matthew had fabulous releases on every piece. I have never performed in the Basilica of St. Mary but I have performed in similarly large spaces with insane acoustics; I know how easy it is to have the sound sink immediately following a piece. Also, releases were lifted and soared to the back of the large space.

The repertoire for the concert was incredible and I enjoyed every piece. I have to say, I was extremely excited to hear Rachmaninoff's "Vespers (All-Night Vigil)"; it has to be one of my favorite choral works. Matthew was able to fully express the gorgeous extremes throughout the entire concert but I was especially impressed with this particular set (more specifically "Rejoice, O Virgin/ Bogoroditse Devo"). For the larger moments, Matthew took advantage of his circular, sweeping motions. For the intimate, sensitive moments, Matthew quieted down his gestures, brought them in closer to his body, and sometime influenced the sound/dynamic with a simple change in his hand position.

As we all know, Matthew Culloton is an extremely dynamic individual and last night, he was able to bring that energy and knowledge into his conducting. I learned a lot from this concert observation: active versus inactive gestures, sweeping motion, conductor-ensemble interaction, and learning when a conductor is needed versus simply letting the singers do their thing! Great concert!

March 24, 2008

March 14, 2008: "Cross the Wide Missouri"

Considering this conducting lab was my last class right before spring break, I think it went quite well. I stayed focused which is always a good step! After Dr. Mehaffey commented on my "broken wrist", I think I was able to execute the legato clearer. The ensemble responded really well which allowed me to experiment with different gestures and ideas. I took past advice about incorporating my left hand into this conducting lab. I only used it when I wanted to add a certain dynamic or style marking. However, I over extended my arm too soon so I was unable to move the ensemble exactly the way I wanted to. This is something I will focus on for next week. Overall, I felt pretty grounded throughout the entire lab and I felt my patterns and cut-offs were clear. I was really pleased!

March 15, 2008

Las Amarillas (last one!)

I watched the video and felt that it was drum-major conducting from me! Bouncy, vigorous gestures are great for the football field, but probably not helpful for a choir. I need to find a way to communicate rhythmic vitality without jumpiness.

Stan, my conducting yogi, observed that I have too much upward energy in general. He had me practice hitting a music stand while I conduct and being careful not to recoil upwards. It’s a challenge to cultivate even, perpetual motion between beats. I think it’s symptommatic of beginning to think more about expression than the beat pattern- when you turn your focus away, things begin to slip and get sloppy.

Steph, Kristin, and I just taught the piece at Central High School this past week. I remember being challenged by the rhythms when I intially learned it to conduct in class. Parts of Las Amarillas have a 2-3 clave rhythmic motif, an Afro-Cuban convention which took me a basically a semester of percussion methods to figure out.

When I took the piece out again last week, however, the rhythms seemed much more organic. We performed it as a trio for the choir to hear how the parts locked together and led sectional rehearsals, which went really well for all of us. It think it was a matter of having time to live with the piece and absorb it. I am looking forward to conducting it again for “conductor’s choice? classes- I think I’m beginning to understand it vertically now as well as horizontally.

Wood River (also belated!)

In her Wood River blog entry, Claire complimented me on the idea of jumping into three for a measure and pondered how conductors can better think outside the box. Well, to share my strategy, I prepare by making the most intuitive gesture that comes to mind as I sing the melodic line. As choral singers, we’re taught to minimize all body movement, and even as soloists, we’re only allowed the most controlled gestures. It’s quite therapeutic to dance and flail around practice room and probably helps internalize the piece a la Dalcroze. Who knows if this has a big impact on my conducting, but it certainly helps me to explore the tone of a piece in greater depth.

There are times, though, where I feel stumped to create a gesture, so I will systemmatically determine the “signpost? of the phrase. In a masterclass last semester, Met baritone Alan Monk talked about determining the arrival point of each phrase and assigning yourself some sort of expressive task for each unique phrase. My conducting mentor, Stan, supported this with the idea of mapping left hand gestures into the score. He shared his own symbol system for this, which was impressively complex. I understand that many conductors will mark their score with metric symbols or indicators, but it was very helpful for me to determine a role for my left hand ahead of time.

Anyhow, Claire, thanks for the shout-out. I really learned something from your commentary about conducting “without apologizing.? In the arts, talent is useless if you don’t “own it.? Because conducting is a new area of practice for us, it's tempting to be wimpy and shy on the podium, but if we don't have confidence in ourselves, no one else will buy it!

Hotaru Koi (belated)

Hotaru Koi was an interesting exercise in the management of space and energy. The ending is a prolonged decrescendo and I found myself running out of space and clamping my elbows in close to my body. When I kept my arms open and free- Andrew mentioned this issue to another classmate- the ensemble experiences a better sense of support.

I was interested to hear Jon’s comment in class (and on the blog) that he would enjoy revisiting pieces rather than conducting them once or twice and putting them away. I agree- I’m terribly excited to start teaching and be able to live with a piece every day. I think my conducting skills will grow exponentially because I will be able to start adding in more subtle details. As it is now, you just try to keep your wits about you and keep waving the hand, but getting a chance to work a piece “into your hands? (like you work a song into your voice) over months is an appealing thought. Oh, those poor high schoolers who will be our guinea pigs!

But the grad student applicants who visited the Chamber Singers and Concert Choir these past weeks taught me that independence is a double-edged sword…. While regular teaching will allow me to get comfortable with conducting and necessitate refinement, I will continue to video tape myself from time to time. As we all noted, there were a few conductors who demonstrated nasty habits obtained from years of working with a certain population. Hopefully, video taping my conducting will help me to self monitor and prevent these behaviors.

'Cross the Wide Missouri 3/14/2008

As I prepared ‘Cross the Wide Missouri this week, I took stock of some of our past work by reviewing the videos without sound. I wanted to see if I could predict what sound my gestures would elicit. When I watched them again with sound, I found that some of the gestures were clear- for instance, a little popping gesture (stolen directly from Prof. Mehaffey) helped the choir to be more precise.

Many of the ideas I wished to communicate about shaping, however, did not have the intended effect. I attribute this to my inexperience- clearly, I am still experimenting with a gestural vocabulary- but this week, I deliberately waited to conduct last with the hope that the ensemble would be more responsive. It made a wonderful difference, but there was one troublesome spot where I wanted a section to be quieter, but no one was looking up. With each successive repetition, I tried adjusting my gestures, then forcefully “shushing? the section from the podium, and finally resorted to a verbal request.

I would like to think that I could communicate these things nonverbally through force of will, but that requires an attentive ensemble. As conductors, what can we do to facilitate better eye contact from an ensemble? How much do you think personality and charisma come into play? Would it help if I try to be more animated on the podium? It’s more fun to watch dynamic conductors like Bernstein or Furtwangler, but are there examples of conductors who are more reserved, but equally as intense?

March 14, 2008

Cross the Wide Missouri

I really liked the fact that I got to conduct this before our class today. Having that experience at Champlain helped me realize and think about things ahead of time that I may not have thought of. I mentioned cut-offs today. I need to work on them. I feel like a little tap of my finger is enough for our class, but it may not be enough for a middle or high school choir.
I have never conducted at the beginning of class before. After watching everyone else, I feel like I gave too many beats. We briefly talked about the subtle beats that you don't need, but I feel like I could have done more with the longer notes. I think about this every time, but it is something I just need to practice more. I spend most of my practice time making sure I "get it right," instead of style issues.
Dynamics is another issue of mine. I know I do not show enough. I can tell I am still at the point where my mind is limited to a couple of things to think about while conducting. Usually, dynamics is not there. i just need to get more comfortable with the piece. I also think that as I get more experience, I will be able to put the whole package together at the same time instead of thinking about it piece by piece.
I may have more to say after watching my video, but it is break, and I want to relieve my mind of assignments for a while. Until then...

March 10, 2008

Hotaru Koi

I think conducting this piece was more of a challenge than I thought. While yes, I could go on auto pilot and conduct a 4 pattern the whole way through, it is difficult to remember which part comes in when and you could get completely lost. I had the benefit of already singing this piece in high school and also being able to conduct a bit of it when I was at Champlin Park so I didn't think it went too poorly. I meet with Peter Haberman this Friday and I hope to see if he has any new techniques that I can use also to help from creating so much upward tension.

March 8, 2008

February 29, 2008: "Hotaru Koi"

Overall, I think this conducting lab went pretty well. I was familiar with the piece because I performed it my sophomore year of high school. I was surprised to see the challenges this piece presented. While the conductor must stay out of the way for the most part, I was challenged with this lab; I learned a lot! One thing that I think I did really well was getting the ensemble started and then just getting out of the way. That is necessary for this piece. Also, I think I did pretty well with the extreme dynamic changes within the piece. I struggle with forte but I think it went well this week.

While there were things that I did well, Andrew brought to my attention a few things that I can improve on for next time. For instance, I was prepping the beat early when transitioning between dynamics. It was a beat early and he brought to my attention that I need to prep the beat at the last possible moment. I will practice this for the future and I think I will get it right next time. Also, when I was finishing the piece on the pianissimo, etc., I was lowering my beat pattern. Andrew suggested that it might have a stronger affect if I raised up the gesture. This was confusing for me because I did not practice it that way, I had to focus more on my elbows/entire arm, and my center of gravity is lower than a mans. While it was a little uncomfortable, I gives me other options for future pieces. I learned more on this piece then I thought I would; it was a productive conducting lab.

March 4, 2008


I felt like this seemed more relaxed than previous conducting experiences. I feel like the biggest improvement for me has been the ability to relax and not to become micro-managing or to worry about every small thing I do. i need to step back and look at the big picture. Then I can find things I do well, and instead of being negative, I can use a positive attribute and build off of this to exercise something that I need work at.


I have been thinking and briefly talking with others about our structure for conducting. I don't know what we can do about this, or if others have the same opinion, but I would like to have multiple times on the same piece. I was thinking the other day that I would feel more comfortable conducting one of the pieces we were singing in choir than some of the ones we are conducting. I can only attribute this to the extra experience with the piece. I just figured if we were given a second chance that maybe we could learn and accomplish more on a piece. I would feel more comfortable and have more liberty trying new things with the extra experience. Just a thought. Like I said, I don't know if there is anything we can do about this or if others feel the same, but I wanted to throw it out there.

Hotaru Koi

Obviously I am bad at this. Please forgive my absentmindedness. WOW! I could not believe how different the group sounded when I got up in front of them. I thought I knew the piece very well, but I realized I was relying on listening only to the part I was singing. I really had to think when I was conducting.

I know that this was mainly a technical piece, but I struggled with finding ways to show different timbres. I understand how to switch between the rigid and legato sections, but how do you show differences in the quick-moving piano sections?

I am glad we did the exercise before conducting. It helped solidify that change in my mind. As usual, I wish we could have had more time. It would have been nice to try things differently or just more than a couple of times.

In the sfz sections, I feel that I did not get the results I was showing. Even though there is no video to look at, any words of wisdom? Maybe something to talk about in my UG meeting.

Another section was the rit. and crecendo section at the top of the third page. I felt that I did not get the dynamic differences I was showing. Maybe I was not showing this enough. Maybe we did not know it as well as we should have to respond in the correct way. I know that there were times I caught myself not doing what I was being showed by another conductor.

March 3, 2008

2/29 Hotaru Koi

This was a good exercise, for me, I think. I've been thinking about how I might expand my vocabulary of gesture as well as how to Hear the choir while conducting. I'm still in the beginning stages of both, but Friday was helpful. The exercise before conducting forced me to assess whether or not the choir was doing as I asked. You responded well to my piano gesture (which I said I wanted to make smaller from last time) as well as my switch to forte and forte accents. People were surprised by my force, but my mentor encouraged me to "show the dynamics without apologizing" so that's what I tried. I thought about breaking the plane and changing my intent, not just the size of the pattern. This was all well and good, but not exactly in the spirit of the piece. Where it worked well in the pre-piece stuff, I don't think it fit as well into the short, sweet children's song. What I can conclude, then, is that while it's always good to play with a number of different factors when adjusting dynamics, everything must be kept in an appropriate context of the piece. I appreciate everyone's willingness to go with me, even through my smashing of the fireflies.

Of-topic discussion question: How do people feel about wearing hand and wrist jewelery while conducting (i.e. bracelets, rings, watches)? I've heard and seen mixed opinions. I, for one, have never found it distracting until somebody told me that it was (isn't psychology interesting?!). Now I check people's hands to see what a particular conductor must feel about it. How about you?